Successful relationships are built on respect, affection, trust, and communication. But your partners’ self-destructive behaviors can cause these foundations to break down. Find out what to look for, why they might be doing it, and what your options are if destructive behaviors are sabotaging your relationship.

What are Self-Destructive Behaviors?

Self-destructive behaviors sabotage something that, on a conscious level, the person wants to succeed. They are patterns of actions that make it harder for the person to reach their intended goals. They can undercut a person’s education, their career, and their relationships. Within the context of marriage or committed relationships, self-destructive behavior can include:

  • Picking unnecessary fights
  • Hypercriticism
  • Blaming
  • Clinging
  • Disrespect
  • Jealousy and distrust
  • Withdrawal and ignoring one’s partner
  • Alcohol, substance abuse or other addictive behaviors
  • Cheating and affairs

Destructive behaviors in relationships send signals to the person’s partner that they aren’t serious about the relationship, aren’t committed to the other person, or don’t want the relationship to continue. When you respond to those signals, the relationship can break down and it can leave both partners feeling heartbroken and alone.

Get Help Shielding Your Relationship from Sabotage

Talk to a psychotherapist today about protecting your relationship from self-destructive behaviors.

Why Your Partner May be Using Destructive Behaviors in Your Relationship

People who engage in self-destructive behaviors often struggle with insecurity, and conscious or unconscious fear of rejection, vulnerability, and attachment. These insecurities can be deeply rooted – often learned from the family relationships or traumatic events they experienced as children. When your current relationship touches on that person’s long-held insecurities, it may cause them to act in defensive ways, including through self-destructive behaviors.

These kinds of destructive behaviors often come up when a relationship moves to the next level:

  • Dating couples begin a committed relationship
  • One partner proposes marriage
  • A couple moves in together
  • A married couple has a child

They can also be triggered by existing mental health concerns, like anxiety or depression, or outside events that impact the person’s feelings of self-worth, such as losing a job.

How to Respond to Destructive Behaviors Sabotaging Your Relationship

If you recognize that your spouse or partner is engaging in self-destructive behaviors, you should not assume that you are the problem. However, you also won’t be able to “fix” it yourself. No matter how much you love your partner or want your relationship to succeed, you don’t have the power to change your partner. You can only change how you respond to their self-destructive behavior.

Unfortunately, your healthy and natural reactions to your partner’s self-sabotage can sometimes exaggerate the problem or make them more defensive. For example:

  • Worrying about your partner’s behavior may mentally or emotionally exhaust you
  • Trying to motivate them to get help can create guilt and perpetuate the self-destructive behavior
  • Taking their behavior personally will erode relational trust
  • Ignoring your own needs and responsibilities can cover up your partner’s actions
  • Trying to take the place of a therapist for your spouse can hurt your relationship further

However, there are some things you can do to help:

  • Let your partner know you love them and want them to be well
  • Be compassionate when they are struggling
  • Be clear that you cannot and will not fix their problem
  • Connect them with resources and specialists who can objectively support them
  • Tell them they are worthy of help and deserve to get it
  • Get your own support to process negative feelings that arise because of the self-destructive behavior
  • Hold appropriate boundaries
  • Remember that you have the right to end the relationship if your partner refuses or is unable to get healthy

Is Something Bigger Going On?

This may also be an opportunity to ask if they are experiencing bigger mental health challenges. Ultimately, it will be up to your partner to recognize and break out of their self-destructive patterns. Often, this requires building skills of self-awareness and mindfulness with the help of a couples’ therapist or private psychotherapist. By recognizing the underlying cause of the self-destructive behaviors, and the triggers that bring them forward, you and your spouse can begin the process of repairing the foundations of your relationship.

David Stanislaw is a psychotherapist with over 30 years of experience. He provides couples’ counseling and helps children, teens and adults with self-destructive behaviors and other mental health concerns. Contact David Stanislaw to get help today.